Is there anyone besides Andrew Sullivan who notes how peculiar it is that John McCain wants to aid al-Qaeda operatives in Syria? It is duly reported that most of the Syrian rebels are Sunni fundamentalists. And as soon as it is reported, it is just as quickly forgotten. I don’t understand for the life of me why anyone thinks that Syria controlled in part or in full by Sunni jihadis is better than one controlled by Bashar Assad. Assad, whom I’ve noted before, has run a thuggish regime with a social base largely on Syria’s minority but far from tiny Christian and Alawite communities. If he falls, he falls—certainly he and his regime are not something Americans need go to tears over. But I don’t fully understand the haste to drive him out, the fervor behind Johnny “the Jihadi” McCain’s desire to oust him.
I don’t fully understand, but I have my suspicions. They run like this: the reason McCain and much of the Beltway establishment so hate Assad, even to the point of preferring al-Qaeda, is that Assad is aligned with Iran and funnels Iranian weapons to Hezbollah, the only Arab force in the past 60 years that has been able to fight the Israeli army without breaking down and collapsing. One key factor constraining an Israeli strike on Iran is Hezbollah, which could plausibly respond by launching some rockets at Israeli cities. So, defeating Assad weakens Hezbollah, which weakens Iran’s deterrence against Israel, which solidifies Israel’s military domination of the Mideast. I get that, as the saying goes. A fractured Syria, even one dominated by al-Qaeda, is better for Israel than a Syria aligned to Iran and willing to supply Hezbollah in Lebanon.
My question is, is it better for the United States? For the life of me, I can’t see why. Hezbollah has done some vicious things, including killing and torturing Americans during Lebanon’s civil war of the 1980s. But it’s terrorism which is territorially motivated rather than religiously motivated, and there is no reason to think that they wouldn’t be happy to ignore America if we ignored them. Not so the Sunni fundamentalists. For them we are a religious enemy. The rebels in Syria, who have come from all over the Sunni Muslim world, seem quite similar in ideology to the guy who inspired the Tsarnaev brothers to blow up women and children at the Boston Marathon. Why should we want to strengthen this faction of Islam by bringing them to power in Damascus?